Executive Summary - The Bottom Line

Executive Summary - The Bottom Line

According to new estimates by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) of the U.S. Department of Transportations Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), over 19 billion tons of freight, valued at $13 trillion, was carried over 4.4 trillion ton-miles in the United States in 2002. This means that on a typical day in the United States in 2002, about 53 million tons of goods valued at about $36 billion moved nearly 12 billion ton-miles on the nations multimodal transportation network.1The new estimates combine data from the Commodity Flow Survey (CFS)the most comprehensive nationwide source of freight dataand data from other sources to provide the most complete picture of freight movement in America yet available (exhibit A).

This report discusses the resulting composite estimates, using 2002, the year of the latest CFS, as the baseline. It also discusses more recent data for specific modes, the geography of freight movements in the United States , and the growing importance of international trade to the U.S. freight transportation system.

As the U.S. freight transportation system advances further into the 21st Century, the need for managing the demand on the system and monitoring the volume of freight handled by each transportation mode will remain critical. It is important to know how much freight and what type of goods move on our nations transportation network. These and other data about the kind of transportation mode, vehicle or vessel characteristics, and facility type are needed to track, monitor conditions and performance, evaluate investment needs, and fully measure the many ways freight interacts with and enables economic activity.

Today, businesses depend on the interconnected transportation network to move myriads of goods, from raw materials such as lumber, coal, and petroleum products to manufactured goods including medical supplies, furniture, household appliances, and computers. More than ever before, Americans take for granted buying imported fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers at their local supermarkets; next-day delivery of goods purchased over the Internet; and tracking express packages online to know their whereabouts at any given time. These everyday occurrences result from the availability of a vast transportation network, changes in freight delivery services and freight carrier operations, and improvements in freight logistics due in part to advancements in information technology and the Internet.

While goods movement in the United States is changing, some long-standing freight trends persist and new ones are emerging. Among the modes of transportation, trucking remains the shipping choice for many businesses and is increasing its market share. Air freight and express delivery are growing the most rapidly, although air cargo remains a small and specialized part of freight activity in terms of tonnage. Intermodal freight is increasing and use of containers for multimodal shipments is rising. Growing demand for more efficient and faster delivery of high value, low weight products is changing the structure of the freight industry, creating new alliances among shippers, carriers, and logistics providers. At the same time, enormous volumes of bulk commoditieswhether grains, lumber, ores, coal, or oilcontinue to move into, out of, and within the United States . These trends continue to shape freight transportation and transportations importance to the U.S. economy.

Major Highlights

Composite Estimates

  • The composite estimates show that much more freight moves on the nations freight transportation system than previously reported in the CFS.
  • They show that in 2002, by value 36 percent of the freight moved nationally was non-CFS shipments; about 40 percent by tonnage and about 29 percent by ton-miles were non-CFS.
  • On a per-capita basis, the composite estimates indicate that an average of about 68 tons of freight (135,338 pounds) valued at $45,324 were transported about 15,310 ton-miles for every American resident in 2002.

Transportation Mode

  • Whether measured by value, weight, or ton-miles of the composite estimates, trucking as a single mode (including for-hire and private use) was the most frequently used mode, hauling an estimated 70 percent of the total value, 60 percent of the weight, and 34 percent of the overall ton-miles.
  • Measured by ton-miles of the composite estimates, trucking was followed by rail at 31 percent, pipeline at 16 percent, and water with 11 percent. In general, trucking dominated shipment distances of less than 500 miles while rail dominated the longer distance shipments.


  • According to the new composite estimates, nearly 1.7 billion tons of merchandise moved in and out of the United States in 2002, accounting for over 9 percent of the 19 billion tons of the total commercial freight transported on the nations transportation system.

In 2004, the top five freight gateways represented the three transportation modeswater, air, and land. The John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport was the leading gateway for international trade by value, the Port of Los Angeles ranked second in value, and the Port of Long Beach ranked third. These were followed by the land border crossing of Detroit and the Port of New York and New Jersey.

Commodity Flow Survey (CFS) Estimates


The composite estimates do not provide the detailed information about shipments provided by the CFS. Hence, the report relies on the CFS data to discuss commodity-specific shipments, shipments distance, weight, and geography of freight shipments.

  • According to the CFS, in 2002, more than $1 out of every $10 (11 percent) of freight goods shipped was for electronic, electrical, and office equipment, down slightly from 13 percent of the value in 1997.
  • One out of every six tons transported by freight carriers covered in the CFS was gravel and crushed stone.
  • The top commodity by ton-miles in 2002 was coal, carrying 686 billion tons and accounting for about 22 percent of all CFS ton-miles.


  • In 2002, more than three-quarters (77 percent) of the weight (9 billion tons) of all CFS shipments and over half the value ($4.6 trillion), moved in local and short haul shipments, within 250 miles from origin. However, long-haul shipmentsmore than 250 milescarried 82 percent of the ton-miles.


  • Smaller sized shipments (less than 500 pounds) accounted for about 25 percent of the value of CFS shipments. Of these shipments, those weighing less than 100 pounds grew even faster by value between 1993 and 200265 percent by value.


  • By value, the leading state of origin for CFS shipments was California with 11 percent ($924 billion) of the value of total CFS shipments, followed by Texas with 7 percent of the value. Other leading states of origin by value include Ohio and Illinois.
  • By weight, the leading states of origin for outbound CFS shipments include Texas, California, and Illinois.
  • By value, the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside metro area was the lead for outbound CFS shipments originating in metropolitan areas.
  • By weight, the leading metropolitan areas were: Houston-Baytown-Huntsville, Texas; Chicago-Naperville-Michigan City (Illinois part); and Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside.
  • Nationally, nearly 60 percent of the value of CFS freight shipments by all modes, worth $4.9 trillion, crossed state lines in interstate commerce. By weight 34 percent of the shipments, over 4 billion tons was interstate.

Each transportation mode continues to play an important role in the movement of freight, whether hauling large quantities of bulk commodities or perishables over great distances, carrying smaller packages to the main streets and back roads of America , or flying high-value merchandise to and from our trading partners abroad. Growth in the U.S. economy, increases in wholesale and retail trade, and changes in our overseas trading partners will continue to affect the level of U.S. freight shipments and the demand for freight transportation services. By 2020 the nations freight tonnage is projected to increase nearly 70 percent (USDOT FHWA 2003).2 With this expected growth, the need to better track changes in how freight moves and monitor the possible impacts on system capacity, congestion, safety, and the environment will be of major importance.